But more comparisons are needed if the people of Wales are to judge progress for themselves, says Auditor General for Wales
Welsh Councils, National Parks and Fire and Rescue Authorities are getting better at connecting what they want to achieve with their plans and resources and some are presenting a clear and candid picture to local people. But a report, published today by the Auditor General for Wales, also found that poor information makes it difficult to be sure that they really understand their own performance enough to address the challenges they face.
Today's report looks at how well local authorities are planning, delivering and reporting their improvement. It concludes that while they are all complying with their legal obligations both to plan for, and report, improvement, they are not consistently acting in accordance with Welsh Government guidance and acting on the recommendations of regulators.
For example, many authorities need to improve the way they evaluate and report on their performance to the public - such as comparing performance against their objectives over time, and comparing their performance with other authorities. And, in some instances, authorities are not including relevant comparison and performance measures, especially where they are not doing so well.
The report also found that Welsh Government guidance is not always sufficiently clear - which makes it difficult for authorities to fully grasp what is expected of them. For example, guidance on the deadlines for preparing improvement plans is not specific and there are deficiencies in the definition and use of some performance indicators.
Things are improving, however, in relation to setting clear objectives linked to improving outcomes for local people, with some good practice examples of this noted in the report.
Local authorities are increasingly engaging local people in a dialogue about their performance and improvement but a number report selectively and others fail to present a clear picture.
Not enough authorities are making good use of performance information to evaluate, inform and drive their improvement. And, while most authorities are using a wider range of measures, over half have difficulty in accurately measuring their performance across all services due to partial or inaccurate information.
Auditor General for Wales, Huw Vaughan Thomas, said today:
'It is good to see that councils, national parks and fire and rescue authorities are getting to grips with linking their plans and resources to the outcomes they want for local citizens. But, they need to sharpen up on target setting and recording and measuring their performance. It is also vital that they start painting a clearer and more accurate picture of how they are doing to local people, so that citizens can judge for themselves whether the goals set have been achieved.'
Notes to Editors:
• This report is based on work carried out by the Wales Audit Office (reported in letters to councils, national parks and fire and rescue services, relating to their improvement planning and reporting and in published annual improverment reports) and the other relevant regulators.
• It seeks to answer the question: 'Are improvement authorities planning, delivering and reporting their improvement effectively?'
• Authorities in Wales deliver a wide range of important local services and are accountable to local electors for the way in which they make use of public money.
• The Welsh Government has legislated to require authorities in Wales to 'make arrangements to secure continuous improvement.' This means that they must plan for improvement against locally set improvement objectives; evaluate their own success in achieving those objectives and other targets and obligations. Finally, they must try to engage local people in helping shape their objectives, describing in a clear, accurate and balanced way, how well the council is doing.
• The Auditor General is required by the same legislation to comment on authorities' improvement objectives and their arrangements to agree and achieve them; also to comment on the quality of their self-evaluation and how they communicate this to local people.
• The Public Audit (Wales) Act 2004 requires the Auditor General to appoint external auditors to audit the accounts of local councils.
• The Auditor General and the auditors he appoints in local government are the independent statutory external auditors of most of the Welsh public sector. They are responsible for the annual audit of the majority of public money spent in Wales, including the £14 billion of funds that are voted to Wales annually by the Westminster Parliament. Elements of this funding are passed by the Welsh Government to the NHS in Wales (over £5 billion) and to local government (nearly £4 billion).
• The Wales Audit Office mission is to promote improvement, so that people in Wales benefit from accountable, well-managed public services that offer the best possible value for money. It is also committed to identifying and spreading good practice across the Welsh public sector.